The Specialist Cheesemakers Association (SCA) is an organisation for cheesemakers, retailers and wholesalers who are united in the pursuit of excellence in cheese. It supports members with technical, health and hygiene problems, as well as being a forum for community-building and the exchange of ideas. Each year, the SCA holds their annual general meeting at one of its member's farms. It’s a time for members to come together to share knowledge and socialise. There is a fellowship and camaraderie about the organisation and the farm visits encourage small cheesemakers to support each other.
The 2022 host farm was Ulceby Grange in Lincolnshire, which produces Lincolnshire Poacher. Producers Simon and Tim Jones have been members of the SCA since is started and Tim has been its chair and is on its committee. So when they were asked to host the farm visit, they knew what they were signing up for and jumped at the chance. It seemed particularly pertinent for Simon and Tim as it is the 30th anniversary of cheesemaking at Ulceby Grange and what better way to celebrate than to spruce up the farm and throw a party? Guests came from as far as the Isle of Mull to the tip of Cornwall and camped on the farm in beautiful, summer weather.
The itinerary of the weekend included a farm walk led by Simon Jones who showed his fields of barley and peas grown for whole crop, which was so ripe you could lean in and eat the peas fresh from their pods. Simon also gave a demonstration of their cheese turning robot ‘Florence the Machine’ accompanied by Florence and the Machine’s song Free, featuring the very apt lyrics
“As it picks me up, puts me down
It picks me up, puts me down
Picks me up, puts me down
A hundred times a day”!
There was also a speed-dating session where producers got to showcase something they’ve made and get feedback from their community. Blake Bowden from Whitewood Dairy tasted out his relatively new cheese St Helena, winners of this year’s Artisan Cheese Award’s Supreme Champion title Martin and Hazel sampled out Pevensey Blue and Simon Jones compared differently aged Lincolnshire Poachers with each other.
Each year at the SCA farm visit the winner of the James Aldridge Award for best British raw milk cheese is announced. This year the winner was Graham Kirkham who makes Kirkham’s Lancashire- the last remaining raw milk, cloth bound Lancashire of its kind. The award is coveted within the community because it is judged by fellow cheesemakers and to win it is a real acknowledgement from the winner’s peers of their efforts. The Patron’s Award was won by David Jowett for his morbier-style cheese Ashcombe. This accolade is given for Best Artisan Cheese, regardless of whether the milk used is raw, pasteurised or thermised. Lastly, the Dougal Campbell Bursary was awarded to new cheesemakers Sam and Ben Spence from the Curlew Dairy for their business case for development. The bursary gives investment but also the support of the SCA in the form of a complimentary ticket and accommodation to the next farm visit, the opportunity to present their work at the farm visit, as well as a report in the SCA Quarterly Newsletter. Previous recipients of the bursary have gone on to win the James Aldridge Award, so the Spences really are ones to watch.
A gathering of cheesemakers wouldn’t be complete without plenty of eating and drinking. A team from Leila’s Store in London catered the weekend and incorporated something produced on the farm in every course. The feast started with Ricotta made by Simon paired with peas and beans. It was followed by chicken marinated overnight in the farm’s buttermilk and the meal ended with panna cotta made using buttermilk and milk from the farm and berries from Simon’s wife Jeanette’s garden.
There was plenty of time over the weekend to talk about cheesemaking, sales, animals, farms and family. There was also a presence of cheese retailers and wholesalers who bought a good perspective on the industry. The 2022 SCA farm visit had a relaxed atmosphere as everyone enjoyed sunny weather and after a few hard years, it felt like an exhalation.